The Lost Daughter is a brilliant new film, starring Olivia Colman and Dakota Johnson. This thrilling drama directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal brings the audience on a memorable ride, heightened by award-worthy costumes. The Lost Daughter costumes were designed by Edward K. Gibbon, a talented costume designer known for his work on Skins, The Honorable Woman, Black Mirror, The Luminaries, and The Sound of Music Live. I fell in love with this film likely due in part to Olivia Colman’s entire wardrobe and the role these costumes played in the storytelling. I was honored with the opportunity to speak with Edward about his career and The Lost Daughter costumes!
Spencer: Edward, thank you so much for joining me! I’ve been so excited to talk to you. This is our first interview, which means I am dying to dive into your background as a costume designer. You have quite an accomplished portfolio. Did you always know you would end up being a costume designer?
Edward: No, not at all. It took me a long time to work out what I wanted to do when I grew up. When I was a kid, I didn’t even know what a costume designer was. I went to a very traditional low-rent, British public school that didn’t really encourage anything artistic. I started off working in the theater because I had vague ambitions. Then I thought maybe I could be an actor, but the only access I had to start was working the door in a theater. I thought perhaps I’d somehow get into acting this way. So…that didn’t work!
I’ve always loved clothes. I then went to Manchester University in England. I did a general clothing studies course that I thought would be more fashion-oriented without having to have the artistic prerequisites. It was more of a training to work in a factory. I switched to another design course, and I specialized in graphics. I went into graphic design, but I had always made clothes for myself and other people. This led me to start up a little fashion label in Manchester back in the day when you could have a cheap studio.
Slowly from there, I got into working in theater. In the back of my head, I started to realize I maybe wanted to be a costume designer. In the meantime, I retrained as a tailor. I did that for opera companies for a while. Finally, I got a chance to assist a designer, and it all came into focus. I realized that maybe this was a proper career, and I could do it. I then got a brilliant offer to work on a show called Skins. They took a real pardon on me. I hadn’t got any experience designing on my own. It was the perfect job for me. The show was so brilliant and groundbreaking, and it didn’t matter to them that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing half the time. It was great.
Spencer: *laughs* Yet, it turned out to be such a fantastic show!
Edward: Yeah, it was incredible, wasn’t it? It was so inspiring on all levels, between the writing and the acting. It was a real group effort between everyone involved, and there were no rules. Skins helped me realize what I could do as well. It came with that boost. Then everything else started weirdly falling into place and has always been interesting. I think that’s what I try to hold on to; I treat each of my projects the same way. Because I don’t have a background in design or costume history… yet I love costumes and clothes, so I try to bring something a bit more fresh with pure gratitude to every project.
Spencer: Your background offers a unique perspective! It’s so funny; in many of these interviews I have done, most costume designers say they didn’t realize costume design was a job. They end up in the theater, and I often hear graphic design as a path. There is a thread here!
Edward: Yeah, I know. I often find it quite funny when you meet younger people, and they have this entire route of how they’re going to do things, which is excellent. It’s brilliant. But it kind of amazes me; I wonder how you could be so cued up. Looking back with hindsight, everything I did leading up to now… I don’t think I’d be where I am without all of those moments.
Spencer: Right, I know exactly what you mean. Now let’s talk about the subject at hand, The Lost Daughter, starring Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal. It’s such a great film, and I consider myself quite the Olivia Colman nerd. So naturally, I was excited to watch this. Before we get into the main character, Leda, let’s talk about filming in Athens, Greece! I hear you sourced many of the costumes from the islands?
Edward: Yeah, it was mad because this took place in the middle of the pandemic. Maggie offered me the job literally the week before the pandemic started. No one knew what was happening. Originally it was going to be shot in New Jersey. Things went quiet for a bit, and I thought maybe the film wouldn’t happen. Then suddenly, Maggie was like, “do you want to come to Greece?” Well, yeah! I had been locked in my house for four months by that time.
We did the prep in Athens. I did about two and a half weeks of shopping. Luckily the stores had just reopened. They were really good in Greece with masks; we were being tested all the time. I had a brilliant assistant, Alkisti Mamali. We just hit the shops like crazy for two and a half weeks, getting everything we could together.
We filmed on an island called Spetses, which is incredibly beautiful, about two hours away from Athens. Everything got packed up and we brought a seamstress with us for another week and a half on the island until we shot. We were also fortunate to have quite a few Greek and international designers gifting us things, especially for Olivia and Dakota. It was a mixture of all that, plus we made a lot.
Spencer: It was a mixture between sourcing and creation.
Edward: Yeah, and I always try to do that. I think it’s because I come from a certain creation background that I love even back in the day on Skins. Making pieces will always give you a uniqueness to the project. Maggie was very into the idea of it being slightly timeless and iconic. It’s got a look.
Spencer: Well, it’s interesting you said that because I felt like the film had a look. I’ve done a lot of these interviews now, but this film was a little bit harder for me to crack, costume-wise. I was trying to figure out the story you were telling with the costumes.
It’s not really on the nose, but what I thought you did with Olivia’s character was quite brilliant. The film has a dark, haunting tone at times, but I felt like the costumes felt hopeful and optimistic. You could tell that her character is kind of holding herself back a little bit. Something was holding her down as the story moved along, though you kind of see little moments of liberation in her costume. I don’t know if that is how you envisioned it, so I am interested to hear your thoughts?
Edward: I think that’s brilliant, Spencer. You’ve really kind of nailed it in a way. I believe that the whole thing with Leda was really interesting when Maggie cast Olivia. Because when you read the character, she’s very kind of elegant and very sophisticated, which Olivia is totally. But I think Olivia also brought more humor to the character. The aim was to present a woman with a certain elegance and a certain; she knew what she looked good in. It was, as you say, slightly controlled, slightly limited. She was dressing to appear in a certain way which was this way of a professional, middle-aged academic with style.
Because we had the opportunity of the flashbacks, we see Leda when she was younger. She was slightly less put together and more thrown together. So throughout the film, you see that constant change in her. Then the story goes on. This is not a story about someone going crazy, but it’s someone letting things come up from below or beneath the surface. We introduce more color and a bit more shape as Leda moves throughout this story.
Spencer: It’s all coming together. By the way, I just have to take a moment to say, Leda’s sunglasses game was incredible.
Edward: Oh, they are cool, aren’t they! *laughs*
Spencer: Yes, they were showstoppers! Are they hers? *laughs*
Edward: They are now. *laughs* Most of what she’s wearing is hers now. She loved it! The main ones she wears are vintage Celine that we found in a brilliant store in Athens. So we were so lucky.
Spencer: It felt like a real iconic fashion moment. Did Olivia have a collaborative hand in this process?
Edward: Yes, it was really lovely, and that’s a really important part for me. Part of my job is to make the actor feel comfortable and to feel supported. That collaboration on all levels with directors, the writers, and the actors. It’s really important for me to help understand the character and more of what they know about it. This was also really important for Maggie. I’d worked with Maggie previously on The Honorable Woman; therefore, her perception of the craft and the process is very different because she’s been on the other side of the camera.
So sometimes she’d just be like, you know, I don’t mind what they wear as long as they’re comfortable, as long as they like it. This was interesting because it’s always part of my approach anyway.
Spencer: That’s a lot of freedom, actually!
Edward: Yeah, I know! *laughs* And it’s not always like that. There were moments when she’d be like, “well, maybe…” that was part of the fun.
Spencer: I love that! I noticed immediately, though, as soon as Dakota Johnson’s character came on screen, the stark contrast between Leda and Nina. I’m going to guess that this was intentional. What story were you telling with Nina compared to Olivia Colman’s character?
Edward: I think you’re right. I think it is that complete contrast. There is always that challenge in costuming, designing each person’s unique looks, as well as those contrast and differences. You don’t get very long on screen. It has to be quite immediate, and then you just get on with the story.
So like you said, that was totally deliberate. You see Olivia, and she’s very elegant. She’s neutral, tonal, and covered up even on the beach. Then suddenly, Dakota shows up in these crazy, high-cut swimsuits, clinging gold jewelry and covered in tattoos. Immediately, there are assumptions that you make, and that was Maggie’s other thing; there is always a fine line, to never be judgmental. So we were trying not to be judgmental, but at the same time, give little hints to the character.
Spencer: That’s a good point too. You had to make every costume count, as there were only so many characters. I loved watching Leda’s journey throughout the story because I felt like I was right there with her as she was going through this emotional journey. One of my favorite moments was when she broke out of her usual palette into that reddish pink dress singing “Livin’ on a Prayer”, totally different than anything we saw throughout the rest of the film.
Edward: So brilliant, wasn’t it? I’m so happy. It was one of those things that I never thought everyone would go with. Part of the job is knowing when to stop designing. I had this brilliant image way back of Miuccia Prada wearing this pink dress, taking her bows at the end of a show, and she had this brilliant pink dress on, and it somehow became a reference for me.
We found this dress in a store in Athens, and it’s actually Max Mara. I don’t think I bought it initially, but I kept thinking about it. I just had to have that dress. Olivia could have just laughed, and I showed it to her, but she sort of didn’t, and Maggie didn’t either. We didn’t know what point in the story we could pitch it. But then it came, and that moment was the moment that she does suddenly break free.
The other hilarious thing about the dancing scene is I’m in the bloody dancing scene.
Spencer: Wait, what? Are you really? *laughs*
Edward: Oh, yes, don’t look! You’ll see my terrible dad dancing. We were on an island, and because of the pandemic, we had to have a small pool of people who could be in the background and get close to the actors. I ended up literally dancing for about eight hours.
Spencer: That would be my next question; how long did you have to dance?
Edward: *laughs* Hours and hours! Key hairstylist Daniel Babek and I were doing just mental dancing for hours. To begin with, Maggie loved it! Then she was like, okay, can you just calm down a little bit?
Spencer: This is probably one of my favorite stories I’ve heard all week! Thank you for that. I’m going to go back and watch it now. So I wanted to end with the last shot of the film. I thought this was so interesting. Leda is lying in the waves, wearing a white dress. It’s pretty transparent and covered in her blood, which was a great contrast against the white. I couldn’t help but feel like there was some sort of symbolic nature to this costume that felt similar to a Grecian Statue? I was just captivated by this moment.
Edward: It came about on lots of levels. Initially, it was just my thought that we would see the scene go from night to day. I felt that a white dress would be really beautiful and glowing. As she got wet, I thought it would look incredible as well. The whole white dress thing became a bit symbolic. She wore a white dress when she was first seen on the beach. When young Leda returns to her kids, she brings them white dresses. Then, later on we see Nina’s kid wearing a white dress in the toy store. Even when Leda buys new clothes for the doll, it is wearing a white dress which I actually made.
Spencer: I figured so; I was going to ask you about the doll!
Edward: Yeah, the doll has a little white collar on her dress, the same fabric. There is a little bit of a reference to the poem that the young lady recites in Italian at the dinner party, later referring to the Greek myth of the woman with the Swan. When we did some tests on the fabric while it was wet, it kind of had this lovely draped effect, almost like a Greek statue. That all felt right.
Spencer: That was one of my favorite moments. It was effortlessly executed!
Edward: It just felt so pure, and with the blood, it was amazing.
Spencer: This is why I love this field so much. I love how you took every moment and made the most of it. The Lost Daughter was an example of peak storytelling through costume design. You took every moment, and you made the most of it.
So now that we are best friends, what can we see you doing coming up in the future? I’m excited to hear.
Edward: I’ve just finished an Apple TV show called Liaison, an international terrorism thriller shot in London, Paris, and Belgium.
Spencer: Certainly a bit different than The Lost Daughter *laughs*
Edward: Yes exactly! *laughs* Then in 2022, I’m supposed to be doing a musical!
Spencer: Brilliant, I can’t wait to see. Well, thank you so much for talking with me Edward. Congratulations on all of the success of the film. It truly was amazing and I hope everyone stops what they are doing and go watch The Lost Daughter. This has been a real honor, and I hope to speak with you again soon!
Edward: I’d love to, Spencer. Thank you so much; this was brilliant!